GEORGIA - Fulton Sewage Treatment Spills Anger Cobb County Officials : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Title: Fulton sewage treatment spills anger Cobb officials


Charles Seabrook - Staff Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Angry Cobb County water authorities said Monday they were not properly notified of huge spills into the Chattahoochee River from a north Fulton County sewage treatment plant that forced them to more than double the amount of chlorine used to treat drinking water drawn from the river.

About 600,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spewed into the river from the Big Creek waste water treatment plant in the first of several illegal spills that began March 7. The latest occurred last Thursday, and state environmental officials were checking Monday to determine if additional unlawful discharges occurred over the weekend.

"We regard these spills as very serious," said Jeff Larson of the water protection branch of the state Environmental Protection Division.

The sewage treatment plant is about three miles upstream of Cobb County's drinking water intake point.

Roy Fowler, general manager of the Cobb-Marietta Water Authority, said the first time operators of the county's Quarles Water Treatment Plant on the Chattahoochee noticed something was wrong was when monitors began registering high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in water being drawn from the river. The plant provides water for nearly half of Cobb's residents and businesses.

"We made inquiries to find out what events may have occurred to cause this, and that's when we learned about the spills," Fowler said. "We feel that Cobb County citizens could have been put in danger for a few hours, but because of our safeguards we averted a problem."

Under state regulations, operators of a sewage treatment plant are responsible for notifying downstream drinking water utilities that a spill has occurred so they can take steps to avoid contaminating drinking water.

Timothy Equels, Fulton County's deputy public works director, said that notification went out to the operators of the Cobb plant in a timely manner. "We believe procedure was followed in that regard," he said.

The Big Creek plant is operated by the private United Water Services under a contract with Fulton County. The company also operates the city of Atlanta's water treatment plants. Company officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Equels, however, acknowledged Monday that the spills from the Big Creek plant apparently were due, in part, to "mismanagement" by the plant operators. He also said the county is concerned that the company did not have sufficient personnel nor enough adequately trained workers to run the plant properly.

Downstream water authorities are also concerned that Fulton is building a pipeline to send more than 2 million gallons of sewage per day to the Big Creek plant from its overburdened Johns Creek plant. That plant caused several illegal spills into the Chattahoochee River last year and the new pipeline is designed to take the load off Johns Creek.

But after the series of major spills at Big Creek during the past two weeks, Fulton may have to re-evaluate its plans to divert more sewage there, Equels said.

Sally Bethea, director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the spills show the fragility of the Chattahoochee as it flows through densely populated north metro Atlanta, with drinking water intake pipes only a few miles downstream from waste water discharge pipes.

The first of the spills occurred early on March 7, when 585,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled from an overflow backwash and ended up in Willeo Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee. That same day, illegal levels of sewage solids spewed out of the plant's discharge pipe on the Chattahoochee.

Similar unlawful spills of solids occurred over the next several days. There was a lull after March 12, but another spill occurred last Thursday. The plant could be fined $50,000 to $100,000 for each violation.

Larson said the spills apparently were due to sewage solids building up at levels beyond the plant's capacity to handle them. EPD Director Harold Reheis declared the spills "an emergency condition" and ordered that Fulton take immediate steps.

Equels acknowledged Monday that he is unsure if the underlying cause of the spills has been fixed.

That has Cobb County's Fowler concerned. "We need assurances that proper safeguards are in place because the river and the environment can't handle these kinds of spills," he said.


-- (, March 21, 2000


Those of us in Georgia always feared water troubles related to y2k...mainly because many of the providers are incompetent at any point. Incredible amounts of sewage have been dumped into the Chattahoochee River over the last few years simply from human error let alone y2k or any other technological problem.

There may never be a fully explained cause for this spill (cf. the Senate Committee report).

-- Bud Hamilton (, March 21, 2000.


Thank you for your comments.

I lived in Atlanta for several years and have lots of friends in that region...gosh, I miss that Georgia Lottery.... :)

Best wishes!

Dee, Always LQQKing with a 360 Degree

-- (, March 21, 2000.

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